|Directed by:||Andrzej Wajda||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||1961||Running Time:||113 mins.|
|Language:||Polish (English subtitles)||Genre:||Drama|
|More Info:||Wikipedia Entry||Category:||Feature Film|
Considered a creative “masterpiece” by contemporary critics, Samson, created under Communist rule in Poland, was shelved by Communist leaders of Poland and only recently rediscovered to critical acclaim. Samson applies an art house aesthetic to an examination of the Holocaust. In his modern interpretation of the eponymous Bible story, director Andrzej Wajda replaces the hero’s supernatural physical strength with great emotional strength, to portray the Jewish struggle as a burden the average man could not bear.
“Simplicity, modesty and, above all, respect for detail,” filmmaker Andrzej Wajda explains of the ground-breaking aesthetic he decided to apply once he “started dreaming of making a modern film version of the great Biblical tale.”
In the Bible story, Samson the Nazirite could kill a lion with his bare hands, but lost his might after the beautiful Delilah cut his hair. Instead of physical prowess, Wajda’s Samson has enough emotional toughness to brave the reality of Jewish persecution — as death, prejudice and inequality overtake his world. A dark, coming-of-age film, Samson follows its Jewish protagonist from an anti-Semitic private school to a prison, then into a Jewish ghetto, and finally over the ghetto wall to the outside world. Wajda uses this journey as a means to explore with symbolism and creative cinematography the weighty issues facing the Jewish people.
At its release, Samson was ahead of its time, and received mixed reviews because of the director’s modern creative instincts. But those who did understand his experimental style praised Wajda heavily. “In the first part, the film is a masterpiece. He has not succumbed to the temptations of formal exercise,” a French reviewer wrote, declaring that “far from any baroque mannerism, he says what he has to say firmly, even brutally.”
One of the most interesting questions Wajda raises is that of Jewish solidarity and the guilt of being saved while one’s brethren are suffering. Samson escapes from the Jewish ghetto, but immediately feels a desire to return. Although he could enjoy a comfortable life of cocktails and women, he’d prefer to be in the ghetto, collecting corpses off the streets. Samson argues that his place is with the Jews, that he should suffer along side them. A fake-blond beauty offers a different take. She confides to Samson that she’s Jewish and has been concealing her roots in order to avoid the ghetto. Although she argues passionately, Samson’s emotional strength inevitably inspires her to accept her fate as a Jew.
Wajda’s exceptionally-clever cinematography adds to the artistic appeal of the film. The construction of the Jewish ghetto is communicated through a single, stationary shot. A shabbily-dressed mass clusters in front of the camera, and a pair of hands with a hammer and nails secures one board at a time, until the shot of people has been replaced with a shot of a wall. Through minimalism and simplicity, Wadja establishes a separation between the world of the impoverished Jew and the world outside the ghetto. The viewer, looking on as the ghetto walls block the view of what happening inside, is made to feel detached from the horror inside.
Samson’s ever-present will sends an optimistic message of endurance that speaks to the eternal Jewish experience of survival beyond suffering. When Samson is bruised and exhausted, laying on the ground, he is encouraged by a close friend who says, “one man can suffer such blows and rise again.” For Wajda, this is the greatness displayed in Jewish history. Samson is a scrawny, haggard young man, who says very little and might normally border on boringly average — but his ability to rise despite any blow shows that true strength is in the heart and mind so that, when tested, even the seemingly average among us can be heroes.